Trini Baca probably never expected to be honored by the city, but then he is an institution in the City of Belen. Everybody knows him or knows of him. Everybody love him.
Belen is a sleepy little city south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you were to drive through Belen, especially on Main Street, chances are you would see a man with white hair waving from the sidewalk. He pumps his hand at truck drivers asking them to honk, and often even pumps his hand to motorists. Everyone knows him as Trini or as “Pito Pito”. The other day, he sat in the city council chambers with the mayor, the city council and others. He was given the key to the city. A photo in the local paper shows him wearing something around his neck. If it is, as I suspect, the key to the city, he will probably wear it proudly on the street.
You see, in an earlier and less gentle age, Trini would be called “the village idiot”. Trini was born in a farming community just south of Belen. At age 3 he suffered a brain injury. As a result his parents moved into Belen where it would be easier to care for him. In that day, the schools refused to admit him because he was “mentally challenged”. Today, the school system would search him out and enroll him as a “special student”. He eventually did get some schooling, but is not a scholar. He was cared for by his parents until their deaths and is now cared for by his brothers, but he is not helpless. As he walks about the city, he greets those he encounters and will engage in short conversations. Kipling would have described him as a friend of all. Spanish is his primary language, but he is also fluent in English.
To the casual observer, Trini simply wanders Main Street. He makes daily rounds of the local businesses, sweeping sidewalks and doing other odd jobs. The local restaurants feed him lunch. If Trini has no money, the meal is free, but when Trini has money in his pocket he says, “Trini pagar.” and pays for his food. He also visits the senior center daily. The administrator of the senior center and the local merchants say he adds to the day and a day does not seem complete without Trini.
In addition to his key to Belen, the city council gave him a hardhat, a reflective vest, a new broom, a brush and a dustpan. He said he was, “Happy for (the) city, happy for (the) men, happy for (the) Lord.”
He will probably will spend the rest of his days sweeping sidewalks and greeting everyone who goes by. Not bad, for a man who was rejected sixty-five years ago as mentally challenged. Though his brothers look after him, he leads a semi-independent life, making a humble contribution to his community. Life in Belen is so much richer because of Trini.
Someday, a character modeled after Trini will show up in one of my books. Perhaps he will just have a bit part. On the other hand, what if a criminal ran down the street past Trini? with effort he would be able to give a description to the police or be able to identify him in a lineup. On the other hand, Trini has that brand new broom in his hand. I’ll bet that if a criminal were to run past him, Trini would trip him with the broom. He could be an assitant hero. That would really make Trini smile.